PREVIEW: Could the United States win their fifth Women’s World Cup title?

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is just days away now, and it’s only right that attention turns to the inevitable favourites to lift the trophy once more – the United States of America.

Of course, as four-time champions and current holders of the elusive trophy, Vlatko Andonovski’s side are seen as the most likely candidates to take home the gold medals this summer. Should they do so, they’d become the only side in history to win the FIFA Women’s World Cup on three successive occasions.

But with women’s football in the United States currently in a period of transition, is this their last shot at glory for the foreseeable future – or do the youngsters have what it takes to maintain the nation’s reputation as the elite force on the world’s greatest stage?

One last dance for Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe recently announced that she will be hanging up her boots at the end of the NWSL season, which is scheduled to conclude in the winter. At 38 years of age, Rapinoe has been the face of women’s sport within the US for some time now – but all good things must come to an end.

Even before the news broke, this was likely to be Rapinoe’s last World Cup, and the OL Reign star will want to bow out with a bang. Her plans might be impacted by Vlatko Andonovski’s admission that the forward’s playing time at the tournament will be limited though, as she transitions to a new role within the squad.

Planning for life without Rapinoe will be difficult. The forward has been the first name on the teamsheet for over a decade, and suddenly having to fill that void will undoubtedly result in plenty of tough decisions for Andonovski and his coaching staff.

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Warning signs from the Welsh

As you’ve likely seen, Wales travelled to California to face the United States on July 9. With Gemma Grainger’s side having failed to qualify for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the expectation was that the US would cruise to victory – but that simply couldn’t be further from the truth.

In front of a sellout crowd at San Jose’s PayPal Park, a weakened Welsh side defended resolutely to keep the American attack at bay for more than an hour. Without two of their midfield staples in Jess Fishlock and Sophie Ingle, Wales even applied pressure on the hosts’ defence – though their efforts were ultimately fruitless.

Wales are ranked 30th in the world, but looked seriously capable of inflicting defeat on the United States throughout large parts of the game. Andonovski’s side must surely learn lessons from their sub-par performance, as they’ll inevitably face higher-quality opponents down under.

The United States’ saving grace was a stunning second-half performance from Trinity Rodman. With 76 minutes on the clock, the half-time substitute turned home a ball from Sophia Smith – just as Wales looked to find a breakthrough of their own.

Three minutes from time, it was Rodman’s moment to shine once more as she unleashed a thunderous effort that crept between the ‘keeper and the woodwork – cementing her status as one of the players to watch this summer.

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Impacted by injuries

When you look at the top-class names that fill this US roster, it’s hard to believe that Vlatko Andonovski will be without some of his key players – including the nation’s captain.

Becky Sauerbrunn will notably be absent from this summer’s tournament, with the defender having picked up a foot injury in April. Two months later, she confirmed that she wouldn’t be available for selection – leaving her side without their most influential defender and, more importantly, their well-respected skipper.

In her absence, Alex Morgan and Lindsey Horan will co-captain the national team. When both are on the field, it’ll be Horan donning the captain’s armband – likely due to her central role in the midfield.

While Sauerbrunn might be the biggest name ruled out through injury, she’s certainly not the only star missing out this summer. Joining her in the recovery room will be Mallory Swanson, who is undergoing rehabilitation following a patellar tendon tear.

Since making her national team debut in 2016, Swanson has established herself as one of the most impactful and efficient American forwards – but the knee injury she sustained in an April friendly brought an end to her World Cup hopes.

Brazil-born Catarina Macario has also been ruled out of involvement in this summer’s tournament through injury. Having made seventeen appearances for the USWNT, the forward ruptured her anterior crickets ligament at the end of the 2021/22 season and has just missed out on making the squad as the latter stages of her recovery are still ongoing.

It’s not all bad news for Macario though – the 23-year-old has just completed a high-profile move to Chelsea, where she’ll look to help Emma Hayes’ side lift their fifth consecutive WSL title.

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Time for the youth to shine

With Rapinoe’s impending retirement now confirmed, the United States must begin to introduce the youth – as she certainly won’t be the only player making their final World Cup appearance this summer.

Thankfully, there is a plethora of young talent capable of stepping in – and some have already made their way into Andonovski’s favoured starting eleven.

The hottest name within the American women’s football scene right now is undoubtedly Trinity Rodman. The forward was born to be an elite athlete, with her father Dennis widely regarded as one of the best basketball players of all time – but this summer will be her opportunity to make a name for herself through a display of her own talent.

While the match against Wales was a friendly encounter billed as the United States’ send-off match, Rodman demonstrates her ability to pop up with goals at crucial moments – ultimately providing game-winning contributions. With the ruthless nature of knockout tournaments, she’ll be a key player to have in the squad this summer, and for many years to come.

Alyssa Thompson is yet another of the United States’ prized assets. The winger made her debut against England at Wembley last autumn, having never played a professional match prior to that.

But that has seemingly catapulted her into the limelight, and the sky is the limit for Thompson now. She is evidently rated highly by the USWNT and Vlatko Andonovski – she’s likely to play a starring role this summer.

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The potential opponents

The United States have been placed in Group E. That means that they’ll face competition from the Netherlands, Portugal and Vietnam if they’re to progress from the group stages – which they’ve done in all eight of their previous World Cup appearances.

The Netherlands are certainly an interest prospect this year. Andries Jonker’s side reached the quarterfinals of the EUROs last summer, with France needing extra time to knock the Oranjeleeuwinnen out of the competition.

In just their second appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Netherlands took home the silver medals – and they’ll look to improve on that this summer by laying their hands on the trophy. They’ve certainly got the squad to do so, with Jill Roord, Victoria Pelova and Kerstin Casparij serving as examples of the top-level talent within the Oranje ranks.

Portugal could be somewhat of a dark horse this summer, and the United States cannot afford to underestimate Francisco Neto’s side. The Seleçao das Quinas were able to hold England, the reigning European Champions, to a goalless draw at Stadium MK as their preparations for the World Cup continued to heat up.

Vietnam are likely to be sitting ducks as the Group E action erupts around them. Like Portugal, they’re making their FIFA Women’s World Cup debut – but certainly have less pedigree on the international stage. Their victory at the Southeast Asian Games earlier this year is largely irrelevant, with all three teams in their group posing a significantly bigger threat.

Should the United States progress from their group, they’ll face an opponent from Group G in the round-of-sixteen. Sweden, Italy, Argentina and South Africa will all look to avoid the USWNT – as facing them would almost certainly spell the end of their World Cup campaign.

If you’d like more information on the United States’ potential opponents, we’ve compiled a handy comprehensive guide to every team competing in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup – you can read that by clicking this link.

FromTheSpot will be bringing you coverage of every game throughout the FIFA Women’s World Cup, including previews and detailed reports. We’ll cover games in the buildup to the tournament too, so you can get a feel for the potential favourites ahead of action getting underway in Australia and New Zealand.